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Back to classrooms and Ukraine advisory: In The News for Jan. 17

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 17 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Millions more Canadian students will head back to school today as officials across four provinces work to keep classrooms safe from COVID-19 and the threat of Omicron-driven staff shortages.

Students in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are returning to class after starting the New Year online because of record-high case counts.

The provinces said the return to remote learning was intended to take pressure off the health-care system and give schools more time to improve safety measures.

Deploying rapid antigen tests and upgrading air quality in schools are among the stjeps governments say they've taken ahead of the return to class, with some of the work still underway.

Still, some parents and teachers' unions are voicing concerns that those efforts won't be enough to keep classrooms safe and ensure there's enough staff available to keep schools operating.

Officials and school boards have told parents there are contingency plans in place, but to expect potential shifts back to online learning if the virus's spread forces enough people into isolation.

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Also this ...

EDMONTON — Hospital emergency rooms in Alberta are likely to assess complaints from First Nations people as less urgent than those from other patients, even when their problems are the same, says a new study that looked at millions of such visits.

"If people have a long bone fracture, you might expect the treatment would be the same between groups," said Patrick McLane of the University of Alberta, a co-author of the study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

"First Nations people in emergency departments were less likely to get the higher triage score, which would result in higher urgency of treatment." 

McLane and his colleagues analyzed more than 11 million emergency room visits between 2012 and 2017 from all across Alberta. They looked at five different categories of injury or disease as well as five specific diagnoses.

The data revealed that emergency room staff consistently rated First Nations people as less urgent than non-Indigenous. 

Overall, the study found 12 per cent of non-Indigenous patients were rated at the most serious levels, whereas eight per cent of First Nations people received that rating. 

The finding was consistent through all different types of visits — trauma, infection, substance use, obstetrics and mental health — with the widest gap between First Nations and non-Indigenous assessments coming with substance use.

The work is part of a larger effort to address systemic racism in Alberta's health-care system, said co-author Bonnie Healy, a former triage nurse and Blackfoot member of the Alberta First Nations Information Governance Centre. 

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And this ... 

OTTAWA —Canada is advising residents against taking non-essential trips to Ukraine because of the buildup of Russian troops near the country's border. 

The change in risk level comes amid fears of a Russian invasion. 

Ottawa says Russia's military presence has been increasing since last fall and advises Canadians who are there for non-essential purposes to consider leaving because the security situation could deteriorate.  

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly departed for Kyiv Sunday to speak with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna.

She's also set to meet with around 200 Canadian troops stationed in Ukraine to help train the country's security forces. 

Joly's office says her trip is to underscore Canada's support for Ukraine's sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.  

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

ATLANTA — A dangerous winter storm combining high winds and ice is blasting through parts of the U.S. southeast. 

The storm knocked out power Sunday to tens of thousands of customers, felled trees and coated roads with treacherous ice. 

Highway patrols reported hundreds of vehicle accidents. 

In Florida, a tornado ripped through a trailer park. Three minor injuries were reported. 

Significant icing caused problems in North Carolina, while Virginia State Police said traffic stood still for hours on Interstate 81 in Roanoke County due to an accident. 

The storm system could cause hazardous driving conditions across the eastern U.S. today, as it turns toward the mid-Atlantic states and New England.

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Also this ...

COLLEYVILLE, Tx. — U.S. and British authorities are continuing an investigation into the weekend standoff at a Texas synagogue that ended with an armed British national dead. 

The rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel was among four people taken hostage and credits past security training with everyone getting out safely. 

President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. 

Authorities identified the captor as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram. 

The FBI said there was no early indication that anyone else was involved but has not provided a possible motive. 

The agency on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

WELLINGTON — New Zealand and Australia have sent military surveillance flights to assess the damage a huge undersea volcanic eruption caused in Tonga. 

Communications with the Pacific island nation remain limited since Saturday's eruption. 

Residents who got messages out to the world described a moonscape left by tsunami waves and volcanic ash fall. 

The single underwater cable that provides internet and international phone service was likely severed by the eruption. 

The ash was contaminating drinking water, and New Zealand is planning to fly water and other supplies to Tonga on Tuesday.

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Also this ...

SEOUL — South Korea's military says North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea in its fourth weapons launch this month. 

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t immediately say whether the weapon was ballistic or how far it flew Monday. 

North Korea's apparent goal of the launches is demonstrating its military might while diplomacy is stalemated with the United States and its international borders are closed due to the pandemic. 

Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is going back to a tried-and-true technique of pressuring Washington and regional neighbors with missile launches and outrageous threats before offering negotiations meant to extract concessions.

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In sports ... 

DUBAI — Novak Djokovic is heading home to Serbia after his deportation from Australia over its required COVID-19 vaccination ended his hopes of defending his Australian Open title. 

An Emirates plane carrying Djokovic from Melbourne touched down in Dubai early Monday and a few hours later he was seen on a flight heading to the Serbian capital of Belgrade. 

Djokovic had argued in an Australian court he should be allowed to stay and compete under a medical exemption due to a coronavirus infection last month. 

But Australian authorities revoked his visa and said they needed to keep their borders strong and Australians safe.

To some, it seemed a cloud had been lifted from the Australian Open. However, to others, Djokovic still was almost palpably present, his name on everyone's lips on the opening day of the first major tennis tournament of the year. 

As the No. 1 ranked male player and the defending champion, Djokovic would have been the marquee attraction of the tournament. 

In absentia, he still exercised an outsized influence on opening day Monday.

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In entertainment ...

NEW YORK — After a month at the top of the box office, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has finally been overtaken by “Scream."  Sunday studio estimates say the Paramount Pictures reboot grossed US$30.6 million over the weekend.  

Paramount forecasts that “Scream” will total US$35 million over the four-day holiday weekend. 

That made for a solid revival for the self-aware slasher franchise kickstarted with the 1996 original. 

Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” slipped to second place but continued to rise in the record books. 

It grossed US$20.8 million in its fifth weekend of release. 

Today, it's predicted to pass “Black Panther” for fourth highest-grossing film domestically ever, with more than US$700 million in ticket sales.

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Also this ...

NASHVILLE — Ralph Emery, who became known as the dean of American country music broadcasters over more than a half-century in both radio and television, has died. 

He was 88. Emery's family says the broadcaster died Saturday of natural causes. 

He was probably best known for his work on the Nashville Network cable channel. 

From 1983 to 1993, he was host of the channel’s live talk-variety show “Nashville Now,” earning the title “the Johnny Carson of cable television” for his interviewing style. 

From 2007 to 2015, Emery hosted a weekly program on RFD-TV, a satellite and cable TV channel. 

He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007. 

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ICYMI ...

Céline Dion won't be resuming her anticipated "Courage World Tour" this March after all.

A post on the Canadian singer's website says the tour's remaining North American shows have been cancelled as her recovery from "severe and persistent muscle spasms" takes longer than first hoped.

Dion called off a slate of new Las Vegas show dates in October just weeks before they were supposed to begin due to muscle spasms that her management said were preventing her from performing.

At that time, she was still planning to resume touring in 2022.

Shows in four Canadian cities -- Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver -- are among the 16 stops affected by the latest round of cancellations.

Dion's post says she had completed the first 52 shows on the "Courage" tour before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in March 2020.

“I was really hoping that I’d be good to go by now, but I suppose I just have to be more patient and follow the regimen that my doctors are prescribing," the post read.

"I’ll be so glad to get back to full health, as well as all of us getting past this pandemic, and I can’t wait to be back on stage again."

The post said the European leg of the tour is still on, and is scheduled to resume in Birmingham, England, on May 25.

The post says that ticket holders of the cancelled performances will soon receive an email notification with more information. 

Tickets purchased with a credit card through authorized ticketing outlets will be automatically refunded to the card used for purchase, it added. 

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022

The Canadian Press